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See the Monumental Extravagance of North Korea’s Architecture

The country, through its architecture, seems to terrify and fascinate in equal measure

North Korea is a country that seems to terrify and fascinate in equal measure.

On the world stage, it is often associated with its current and former leaders Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Il, who are branded tyrants but also noted for their ability to look at things and their stylish haircuts. Still others seem entranced by the socialist architecture of its capital, Pyongyang.

Almost completely destroyed during the Korean War, the city was rebuilt from scratch and today provides one of the most striking examples of an entirely socialist-designed metropolis. In the photographs that circulate in the West, we see the perfection of its supersize statues, the neatness of its city squares, and the soaring, still unfinished Ryugyong Hotel. All of which seem like monuments to a giant, nation-encompassing personality cult.

In April 2014, Dutch photographer Eddo Hartmann set out to conquer his own fascination with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, kick-starting the project Setting the Stage: Pyongyang, North Korea.

Hartmann planned his trip for many months and teamed up with the Koryo Studio video team — the art division of a Beijing-based travel company — in order to help him get access. When he was on the ground, he had two North Korean guides with him at all times. He was told to use a digital camera, so authorities might check his work, and was not permitted to take photographs of military personnel or unfinished buildings — standard practice for any visitor to the country. And so, while these images are the work of the photographer, they are certainly touched by the heavy hand of the North Korean state.

The resulting Pyongyang is expansive and largely empty. Its walls are clean, its subway platforms sparkle and in its lobbies, flowers bloom. This is art photography, though, not documentary photography. Unlike David Guttenfelder’s work, we aren’t getting snapshots of everyday life, but instead are being presented with a considered, slow-burning meditation — one fascinated with public space.

There is a theatricality in Hartmann’s stillness too: a woman appears to hide behind a foyer pillar, two speakers look poised to broadcast a state-approved announcement. And yet the photographer doesn’t seem to want us to slam what we are seeing, nor to praise it. Instead, he calls attention to the global fascination with a country, and a city, that remains largely a mystery.

Eddo Hartmann is a photographer based in the Netherlands. Setting the Stage: Pyongyang, North Korea runs through June 7, 2015, at the Huis Marseille in Amsterdam

Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox

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TIME North Korea

South Korean Activist Plans to Airdrop 10,000 Copies of The Interview to North Korea

Stunt planned for late March could raise tensions between the two countries

Despite North Korea’s best efforts to stamp out The Interview, the comedy film about the attempted assassination of Kim Jong-Un may yet land on its territory.

Defector-turned-activist Park Sang-Hak is planning to send as many as 10,000 copies of the movie and 500,000 propaganda leaflets across the North Korean border by balloon on an unspecified date at the end of the month, AFP reports.

The demonstration will coincide with the five-year anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean warship, which the country has blamed on North Korea.

The South Korean government has acknowledged activists’ right to send the balloons but asked them to refrain in order to avoid increasing increasing tensions. North Korea has said it will respond with “cannons and missiles” if the propaganda balloons cross its borders.

“Nobody can stop it,” Park said. “I will keep sending leaflets into North Korea at the risk of my life.”

[AFP]

TIME Bangladesh

North Korean Diplomat Caught Smuggling $1.4 Million in Gold in Bangladesh

Son Young Nam was carrying 60 pounds of gold

Bangladesh seized about $1.4 million worth of gold from a North Korean diplomat at Dhaka airport Friday, according to a senior official.

Customs officers detained Son Young Nam, the First Secretary of the North Korean Embassy in Dhaka, upon his arrival from Singapore with nearly 60 pounds of gold, according to Reuters. The chairman of the National Board of Revenue, Najbur Rahman, said that Nam had told officials there was nothing to scan in his hand luggage.

“Later we informed our foreign ministry and he was released on Friday under the Vienna Convention,” Rahman said.

The Vienna Convention grants diplomatic immunity to envoys like Nam, but Bangladesh said it will file charges in this case.

[Reuters]

TIME North Korea

North Korea Reopens Pyongyang Marathon to Foreign Runners

Runners pass under a pedestrian bridge during the running of the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon in Pyongyang, North Korea on April 13, 2014.
David Guttenfelder—AP Runners pass under a pedestrian bridge during the running of the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon in Pyongyang, North Korea on April 13, 2014.

The country had virtually sealed its borders in late October and imposed strict travel bans in response to the Ebola epidemic

Overseas runners will be allowed to participate in North Korea’s 2015 Pyongyang Marathon after the country reversed a ban on most foreigners entering the country.

Koryo Tours, a British tourism company based in Beijing, sent an email on Thursday stating that tourist applications for the April 12 race would be accepted, according to The New York Times. North Korea had imposed extensive restrictions on travel in October amid fears of the Ebola virus arriving in the isolated nation, which nullified the participation of international runners.

The country’s tourist industry is mainly fueled by visitors from China and Russia, but also a growing number of Westerners. Under the ban, only foreign aid workers and diplomats were given entry into the country — and were required to undergo a 21-day quarantine, according to Reuters.

North Korea is eager to boost its tourist industry, recently establishing its first luxury ski resort and opening up the marathon to recreational runners from abroad for the first time last year.

[NYT]

TIME South Korea

Seoul Police Probe U.S. Ambassador Attacker’s Visits to North Korea

U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert on March 5, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea
Kim Ju-sung—AP U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert on March 5, 2015, in Seoul

State media in Pyongyang applauded the slashing of Mark Lippert

The knife-wielding nationalist who attacked the U.S. ambassador to South Korea is having his travel history to North Korea reviewed as police weigh charging him with attempted murder.

Kim Ki-jong slashed Ambassador Mark Lippert’s face in a knife attack ahead of a Korean reunification forum Thursday, leaving a 4-in. gash on his face and a wound on his left hand. Kim claims the attack was a protest against this week’s joint military exercises by South Korea and the U.S.

On Friday, Kim’s house was raided by police, who hope to obtain a detention warrant against the prounification zealot. But central to pursuing an attempted murder charge will be evaluating Kim’s presence in North Korea over the past decades.

Kim made seven trips to North Korea from 1999 to 2007, according to Seoul police officials.

“We are investigating whether there is any connection between the suspect’s visits to North Korea and the crime committed against the U.S. ambassador,” said Yoon Myeong-seong, a local police chief.

Meanwhile, state media in Pyongyang applauded Kim’s actions with typical belligerence, describing the incident as “deserved punishment” for U.S.–South Korean military cooperation, and saying the 55-year-old wielded “the knife of justice.”

[Reuters]

TIME South Korea

North Korea Applauds Knife Attack on U.S. Ambassador

The assailant reportedly shouted "South and North Korea should be reunified”

You can’t see it on television, but South Korean President Park Geun-hye has a scar that runs from her right ear to her chin. In person, up close, it is just visible below her makeup, a smooth cut that follows the curve of her face. She’s had it since 2006, when she was attacked on the campaign trail by a man wielding a utility knife.

On Thursday, in an eerily similar incident, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was slashed on the face and wrist in the South Korean capital. Photographs from the scene showed him holding the right side of his face, with blood visible on his left hand, and his pink tie splattered red. The U.S. Department of State confirmed the attack and said his injuries are not life threatening. CNN reports that he required 80 stitches. (Park’s attack, by comparison, required 60.)

Lippert, 42, was preparing to deliver an early-morning speech at a restaurant attached to the Sejong Cultural Institute in central Seoul when he was struck with a 10-in. blade. The attacker — since identified by South Korean authorities as 55-year-old Kim Ki-jong — reportedly shouted “South and North Korea should be reunified” during the attack, and continued to shout anti-U.S. slogans as he was restrained.

Both governments responded quickly. “We strongly condemn this act of violence,” said Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department. President Park called the incident “intolerable,” likening it to an assault on the South Korea–U.S. military alliance itself. But North Korea applauded the stabbing, calling it a “knife attack of justice.”

The U.S. military has a long-standing presence in South Korea, an arrangement that dates back to the end of the 1950–1953 Korean War. There are currently some 30,000 American troops on the ground, and each spring, U.S. and South Korean forces engage in joint military exercises. North Korea considers the war games a dress rehearsal for invasion, and some South Koreans believe the annual exercises hurt the divided peninsula’s prospects for reconciliation.

Authorities are still investigating the incident, though the timing, and the attacker’s comments, suggest his motivations were political. The suspect said at the scene and online that he was protesting against the start of this year’s military drills. In 2010, Kim lobbed a piece of concrete at Japanese ambassador to South Korea. He received a two-year sentence that was suspended for three years, according to Yonhap, a local newswire.

Notwithstanding these incidents, a daylight attack on a foreign envoy is highly unusual for Seoul. The city of almost 10 million is, by global standards, a peaceful, prosperous place, known these days for its vibrant pop-music and fashion scenes, not political violence.

The well-liked Lippert, a longtime aide to U.S. President Barack Obama who arrived in Seoul in October of last year, was often seen out and about in the capital, greeting local people while walking his family’s basset hound, Grigsby (who, it turns out, has his own Twitter account). Lippert’s son was born in the city, and he and his wife Robyn even gave him a Korean middle name.

Questions are already mounting about security, especially in light of the 2006 knife attack on the now President Park. How did a man with a large knife and history of violence get so close to the ambassador? A spokesperson for the group that hosted the event, the Korea Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, has already apologized for the security breach.

And while the attack might mean tighter security at upcoming events, Grigsby won’t be alone in hoping that the gregarious ambassador is back pounding the city’s sidewalks soon.

Read next: U.S. Envoy to South Korea Injured in Blade Attack

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TIME North Korea

Canadian Pastor Feared Detained in North Korea

Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim had previously traveled to North Korea on many occasions without incident

Fears are growing for a Canadian pastor currently in North Korea who has not been heard from since Jan. 31 when he was invited by officials to the capital Pyongyang, according to a well-known South Korean activist.

Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim, of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, has been to North Korea “hundreds of times,” a fellow church member in Canada said, but has never been out of communication for this long before, the AFP reports.

Initially, friends thought the 60-year-old’s lack of communication was due to the 21-day quarantine imposed on foreign visitors due to the Ebola virus, but that time period has now expired.

“As far as I know, he was asked by officials to come to Pyongyang on Jan. 31 before he went incommunicado,” Reverend Chun Ki-Won, a personal acquaintance of Hyeon’s, told AFP.

It is now feared that his disappearance is connected to some of the food-related humanitarian efforts he was involved in, as these projects had been tied to associates of Jang Song-Thaek, national leader Kim Jong Un’s late uncle, who was arrested and executed in 2012.

Religious freedom is severely restricted in North Korea, and foreign missionaries are often treated with strong suspicion. A few have been allowed in to help humanitarian efforts, but those caught proselytizing or participating in unauthorized activities are immediately arrested.

The Canadian government has not yet confirmed Hyeon’s disappearance.

[AFP]

TIME North Korea

North Korea Said to Ban Foreigners From Marathon

Regime reportedly cites Ebola as a concern

North Korea has banned foreigners from participating in the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon, citing concerns over Ebola, a company that facilitates foreign travel to the isolated country said Monday.

“We are sorry to announce that our North Korean partners contacted us this morning with news that the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon has — as of today — been closed to amateur and professional foreign runners,” Koryo Tours said in a statement on its website.

The marathon, scheduled this year for April 12, typically draws a large foreign contingent. Koryo Tours alone had planned to take 500 people to the country for the event, according to Reuters. The company said it planned for March tours to proceed as previously scheduled.

North Korean authorities also reportedly cancelled the annual Mass Games—a gymnastics festival that typically drew a foreign crowd—without providing an explanation.

The North Korean government offered no apparent explanation for its Ebola concerns. The disease has killed thousands of people around the world, but none of the deaths have been in Asia. The country’s government has claimed through state television that Ebola was created by the U.S. government.

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TIME North Korea

Someone Has Hacked Into Kim Jong Un’s Hair

NKOREA-POLITICS-KIM
KCNA/AFP/Getty Images North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attends a meeting of the political bureau of the central committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang, Feb. 18, 2015.

The evolution of the the North Korean leader's hairstyle continues

The Supreme Leader of North Korea appears to be changing things up stylewise, even as his government comes under renewed fire for human rights abuses.

At a politburo meeting on Wednesday, Kim Jong Un displayed a new haircut that appears to be the latest in his evolving style. The upward trapezoid-shaped hair is even more pronounced than previous hairdos, and his eyebrows aren’t getting any larger.

READ MORE Watch North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un Take the Controls of an Airplane

North Korea observer Frank Feinstein called out the makeover on Twitter.

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